Monday, 5 October 2015

The Freeborn Exchange

Portrait of Honami Niishi in exchange for artwork, Gavin Freeborn 2014

Another 'so long London' post, this one takes a look at a lower key exhibition than all those in the V&A (but nevertheless well worth looking at), The Freeborn Exchange at Chelsea College of Arts back in April. Gavin Freeborn is a London-based Irish photographer I met while we were both working at the University of the Arts London. He mounted an exhibition and pop-up photography studio at Chelsea, one of UAL's campuses, showing a host of his portraits exchanged in return for objects, experiences, skills and hospitality all over the world. Complementing Freeborn's portraits was a room filled with work by UAL staff and students which touched on travel and exchange, while you could propose your own exchange for a Freeborn portrait in the show's pop-up studio.

"The project started out as a personal journey and one where I could share life and make art with others, but it became clear that the work itself should be shared in some way. Having two rooms showcasing Freeborn Exchanges alongside a room of Chelsea staff and students work relating to travel and/or exchange meant my work and that of others could be enjoyed as a static exhibition, while the pop up portrait studio became both a social and performance space," says Freeborn of the exhibition in Chelsea.

The work on show from Freeborn himself was portraiture from all over the world, of old friends and new, encountered while he travelled through Australasia, Africa, the Caribbean... as well as photographs from back in London. Pictured top is Chelsea graduate Honami Niishi, who exchanged a piece from her 2014 degree show for this portrait, taken before she left London to return to Japan. Above left is Tokyo tourguide Johnny Hillwalker, who took Freeborn on a tour free of charge in exchange for photographs to promote his services online, and above right is Lennon Stafford Thompson, Freeborn's 'Jam-Irish cousin'. 'I journeyed to Jamaica to explore Irish and African mixed heritage and found a rich tapestry of evidence including the Irish inflection in the Patois Caribbean accent, use of Irish words in everyday life and even food similarities such as the use of Irish Carrageen Moss. After spending three days living in a culturally rich Rastafari community near Montego Bay, I travelled by route taxi to Ocho Rios, but the taxi driver left me in the wrong place in the countryside. I decided to eat at the Jerk stall there and chat with the people. It turned out their great-great-great grandfather was full blood white Irish and they shared the Thompson surname of my very own grandmother. Like my family in Ireland, they also have a farm which I spent a day helping on, cutting grass for cows, digging “Irish potatoes” and checking their industrial charcoal production.'

While there aren't immediate plans for any long haul travel (though he is threatening a visit here in Copenhagen...), Freeborn hopes that the show does travel. "My next step is to pitch the show concept to galleries in London and further afield. I'm very excited about continuing to work with collaborators who want to join the next show, while seeking out more artists and a new community to offer portraits and the Freeborn Exchange too. A book is also in the pipeline, so watch this space!" Watch out on Instagram too, where you'll find Freeborn snapping away until the next iteration of The Freeborn Exchange, whenever and wherever it might end up.

Images courtesy of Gavin Freeborn